Easier said than done, we know, but how you age physically is profoundly affected by how you handle stress. Stress is a response to the demands on our bodies and minds and is often a response to a potential crisis, worry, anxiety and fear.
We do need stress, however, it can negatively affect you, creating an imbalance within our bodies that also result in mental health issues, emotional exhaustion, or physical illness. This can all impact on work and family, affecting our daily lives.
What Happens When We Are Stressed?
When we’re stressed, our adrenal glands focus on producing the stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol for survival. If stress is short-lived, then these can keep us focused and alert so that we can handle whatever is happening in our environment. Years ago this would have been an attack from an animal for example. In our modern world, there are far more triggers. Within our menopause age group, we are often looking after ageing relatives, or struggling with symptoms, caring for everyone else except ourselves! Does this sound familiar?
What is important to note is that the adrenal glands are essential for women going through menopause. The adrenal glands produce small amounts of progesterone and oestrogen that are required to supplement the natural decreasing production of both of those hormones. When the adrenals are working correctly, this additional production can re-balance the body and reduce menopausal symptoms.
What happens when we’re stressed? The adrenal glands cannot focus on producing progesterone and oestrogen if they are needed to focus on providing the stress hormones for survival. To be specific, most of the body’s LDL cholesterol is going straight into making cortisol, rather than manufacturing oestrogen and progesterone. The stress hormones take precedence, and this can mean that the additional oestrogen and progesterone, that we need, don’t get produced, then our symptoms can flare-up. Cortisol also goes one step further and can block your progesterone receptors, and the result can be progesterone resistance.
FACT: Your body cannot tell the difference between physical, emotional stress or nutritional stress. Often we don’t even realise we are stressed!
Stress can also slow down your thyroid and the production of thyroid hormones resulting in feeling cold and having aches and pains, also hair loss. If this happens over a long period with the adrenal glands producing buckets of stress hormones to keep you alert, the opposite may start to occur, and your body can go into burnout or adrenal fatigue. The adrenals get worn out. Adrenal fatigue has similar symptoms to menopause – insomnia, foggy thinking, exhaustion, depression and weight gain. High stress, combined with menopause is what’s called a “double whammy.” Plus, guess what we tend to eat more when stressed, hence why people experience weight gain!
All this is not meant to scare you or make you feel even more stressed, but to show you what can happen, and just how much our stress can impact on us during menopause. We want to give our bodies the best possible support during this time, and reducing stress needs to form part of nourishing one’s self.
What can you do about Stress?
Sometimes it just takes a little bit of information for us to be more aware of imbalances in our life, and then we decide to take action. Often known as a kick up the backside. Either way, you now know that stress could be stopping your body from doing what it needs to do to combat the effects of perimenopause and menopause. Your body wants to help you, but you must help your body.
At Our Menopause Retreats, We Can Show You How To Make Small Changes…
Here are some simple things you can do to reduce your stress levels:
- Limit alcohol, as alcohol raises cortisol, be honest with yourself about how much you are drinking. If you binge drink it is as bad if not worse than a few glasses daily.
- Wean yourself off caffeine, as it recreates stress conditions for the body including raising cortisol. Do it gently, or you will experience what we call a melon head, which is a thumping headache as you withdraw. Figure out what is the minimum caffeine you need to survive. You will notice you instantly start to sleep better. We promise you will not taste the difference!
- Treat yourself to a massage as often as possible as it relaxes the body and mind. If you cannot afford a professional one, then ask your partner to massage you. It often helps in the bedroom department too!
- You could try some alternative therapies like Acupuncture as this has shown to improve the quality of life of menopausal women by reducing hot flashes, night sweats, aches and pains.
- Have sex. Have an orgasm. Stop laughing and have some sex. If it is uncomfortable, then leave out penetration, there are other ways to orgasm!
- Stay positive, appreciate what you have and not what you lack. A positive attitude goes a long way, and negativity often leads to poor health.
- Get your nutrient levels tested by your GP as menopausal women tend to have some essential nutrient deficiencies.
- Eat omega three rich food such as salmon, sardines, flax seeds or take a supplement of fish oil as this helps to lower cortisol levels and cholesterol levels.
- Eliminate your phone, iPad, tablet, laptop at bedtime, and in bed, these can be very stimulating. Instead, try 10 minutes or so of stretching and relaxation exercises. We recommend Yoga at our Retreats.
- Eat dark chocolate (above 70% or better above 90% cocoa). Just a couple of pieces a day is good. Dark chocolate has been shown to have a positive effect on stress levels, mood and memory. We left the best until last, we are sure you can manage the chocolate!
Get Out Of The ‘Busy’ Cycle
Sadly, there is increasing value within our society on being busy. Being busy means we are in demand, and we often link that to value. The problem is that being overly busy means we have no time for rest and for our bodies to relax. Your body is always on high alert and pumping out cortisol and adrenaline, not helpful.
As your health is essential, see if you can ignore the pressure from society to be busy and instead prioritise space and things to do that will be relaxing and peaceful, so your adrenals get a break.
Giving yourself this gift will also mean that you’ll have time to create and more time for the people who say something to you. Understand that sometimes we keep on being busy as we are scared about what will happen when we stop. Reduce your fast pace gradually so that you don’t necessarily fall in a heap. Start saying no and start to spread that word that being busy isn’t necessary to you anymore. You’ll be surprised by how people react to this. Some won’t understand you and others will question the value they place in being busy.
Going out with friends can help to ease the stresses of life. It may seem like I’m contradicting my last point but some social time is so essential to counteract the rollercoaster and feelings of isolation that we so often go through with perimenopause and menopause. When we have the support of others we feel less stressed and that’s why it’s essential to foster non-toxic friendships and to be part of communities that will support us.
We need to know that we are understood and heard, and we are not alone. Many professionals advocate talking therapies. Sometimes you don’t even need to speak about the things you’re worried about as focusing on something else helps to reduce repetitive thoughts that often accompany worry.
Exercise & Relaxation
This comes up again and again as it’s one of the critical actions you can take to change the chemicals in your body, so you feel happier and less stressed. Exercise plays a role in lowering cortisol levels, which not only helps to clear brain fog but also helps your adrenals to produce more of the hormones you need to re-balance.
Relaxation exercises are as crucial as a brisk walk. Allow your body to have periods of calm and reduce stress levels. Make the time. We, women, are famous for saying we don’t have the time but do not leave it until you drop, get ill or become frustrated. You owe it to yourself to take ‘time out’ for you. It benefits everyone in the end. When you have a stressful day, find some time where you can just stop and breathe. Walking is excellent for clearing the mind.
Also, try sitting quietly for 10-20 minutes at a time while paying attention to your breathing. Listen to calming music if your mind wonders. Focus on deep breaths: Breathe in slowly for 5 seconds, in through your nose, then breathe out slowly for 10 seconds. Repeat as much as you can manage.
Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are all fantastic for stress. They slow down your body and mind, detox your system and help you to relax completely. Yoga and Pilates are also excellent for building muscle strength and toning your body. Follow our Virtual Retreats, at Fountain Retreats if you cannot get out of the house.
Wind down at night with some gentle stretching exercises. Have a routine and do every night. Try this: While standing up place your legs apart, relax your shoulder and swing your arms around. It’s a beautiful release for both the mind and the body.
Gardening is very therapeutic for some and gets you out into the open air. Reading a book takes your mind elsewhere and helps you to see that there’s more to life than the stress you’re in right now. Sing when you want to and how you want to. Singing is great for mood and breath.
The more you can laugh about all the crazy things you have to go through with others and even when you’re by yourself the more your mood will lift, the less stress you’ll feel and the less overwhelming everything will become.
Menopause is a mighty significant change in your life but try not to fixate. Experiencing anxiety and stress can be a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause due to changing hormone levels. It’s important to seek the right help if stress levels are having a negative impact on your life.
Think about and take action on anything that gives you pleasure, think about plans you can make to live a more inspired life, think about exciting adventures you’re going to have. Then do something about it. Action and only action will bring sustained change. Don’t think about the laundry or the dishes, well at least not in the worst times. Think about your dreams and stimulating learning and nature and then immerse yourself these things. Sometimes having menopause feels like you’re at the bottom of a well but it’s more like climbing a mountain – look around – there are fantastic views to be had.